Following a recent groundbreaking study that reveals the uselessness of pelvic exams, the media coverage is focusing on the continued debate between the American College of Physicians and the ob-gyns, rather than on the implications for women’s health. The Physicians group is claiming the evidence from the study is sufficient to recommend scrapping routine pelvic exams, while the ob-gyns are arguing that there is justification for maintaining the exam practice. The debate has absorbed much of the public’s attention, but there are some important points that are being ignored in the process:
- Given the absence of evidence to support the efficacy of pelvic exams, why have doctors been performing them . . . for many years?
- Until recently, many doctors have failed to acknowledge the invasive and humiliating nature of pelvic exams. In fact, women have often been scolded or chastised when they speak up about the embarrassment and/or request female practitioners.
- The study revealed that no one has been keeping track of the numbers of women who have been unnecessarily harmed due to over-diagnosis and over-treatment. How many women have suffered psychological trauma and unnecessary physical harms? To what extent have these harms affected their health, peace of mind, and ability to reproduce?
- No one has been keeping track of the numbers of times an illness or disease goes undetected due to the disproportionate focus on women’s reproductive organs.
- Women are not being offered informed consent in regards to pelvic exams. In fact, many women face coercion when doctors withhold birth control pills, other medications, and treatment, when they attempt to decline a pelvic exam/pap test.
- No one has been keeping track of the numbers of women who avoid doctors due to pelvic exam coercion.
The recent study and ensuing debate is encouraging, but the coverage continues to ignore and/or downplay the bigger issues in women’s health care.